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Strain testifies before Congress on behalf of farmers

September 25, 2008

Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain, D.V.M., told the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry that Louisiana agricultural losses caused by hurricanes Gustav and Ike were unprecedented.
Strain also testified before the Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Disaster Recovery of the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security, which met jointly with the ag committee.
Strain asked Congress for $700 million in aid for Louisiana agricultural producers. 
“Louisiana agriculture faces unprecedented losses from hurricanes Gustav and Ike,” Strain said. “This is the largest natural disaster affecting agriculture, aquaculture, forestry and fisheries in Louisiana history. No parish or commodity was spared by these storms.”
Strain said he met with farmers at eleven separate meetings across the state immediately after the storms and told the committee Louisiana producers would have a difficult time staying in business without help.
Chief among the farmers’ worries were the skyrocketing costs necessary to grow a crop, Strain said.
“Higher input costs for fuel and fertilizer have more than doubled since the start of the current crop,” Strain said. “Many farmers did not borrow enough money to cover these exorbitant costs and have used all available credit. Since the storms occurred just prior to harvest (many) will not be able to repay their lenders and suppliers.”
Strain said inadequate crop insurance, deficient disaster provisions of the farm bill, the inability to honor commodity contracts, bank liens stemming from the inability to honor commodity contracts and the deterioration of grain, sweet potatoes and cotton were also major issues that need addressing.
Strain urged Congress to act quickly.
“Our rural economy is dependent upon the area farmer,” Strain said. “From the small town banker, parts shop, equipment companies, contract harvester and chemical and fertilizer dealers, agriculture is the foundation on which Louisiana is built. We must act quickly because farmers cannot wait twelve to eighteen months for disaster assistance.”
Also testifying before the committees were sugarcane farmer Wallace Ellender of Terrebonne Parish and Tensas Parish cotton grower Jay Hardwick.
Ellender is the grand-nephew of the deceased Senator Allen Ellender who chaired the Senate Agriculture Committee from 1955 to 1971.
Strain led a contingent of Louisiana ag leaders, which included LSU AgCenter economists Kurt Guidry and Mike Salassi, and Kyle McCann of the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation, in lobbying efforts before the committees.
Strain said he was cautiously optimistic Congress would include Louisiana’s request in its continuing resolution to keep the government running through either November or January.
            “We might see some action on this by Friday,” Strain said.
            Governor Bobby Jindal, Lieutenant Governor Landrieu and Strain headed the group that worked Congress earlier this week.
            “In addition to representing the agricultural needs of Louisiana, we are speaking with one voice before Congress and representing all of our disaster recovery concerns,” Strain said. “We are not only having recovery issues with agriculture but also state infrastructure, security, social services and the health care community.”
            Strain said the agriculture lobby was part of a larger Louisiana team that has met with Congressional leaders for the past two weeks.
            Strain, Landrieu, LSU AgCenter Chancellor Bill Richardson, Louisiana Farm Bureau President Ronnie Anderson, Louisiana State Senator Francis Thompson and State Representatives Andy Anders, Mack “Bodi” White and Sam Little met with the Louisiana congressional delegation last week.
            “I thank Senators Mary Landrieu and David Vitter and Representatives Steve Scalise, Jim McCreary, Rodney Alexander, Charlie Melancon, Bill Jefferson, Don Cazayoux and Charles Boustany for their knowledge and unflinching support,” Strain said.   
            In addition to Landrieu and Vitter, Strain met with Senators Kent Conrad, Tom Harkin, Saxby Chambliss, Chuck Grassley, John Thune, Blanche Lincoln and Herb Kohn.